QWERTY vs. Dvorak

Readers of this blog fiercely debated the validity of the QWERTY keyboard story a few months back. As the legend goes, Christopher Sholes engineered the QWERTY layout that is still in use today in order to slow typists down and prevent key jams. One commenter (ludvig) pointed to this 1996 article from Reason magazine by Stan Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis that “put the torch to the QWERTY myth.” In the article, Liebowitz and Margolis argue that the persistence of the QWERTY myth undermines the theory of efficient markets, since it is usually used as an example of luck winning out over innovation:

The typewriter keyboard is central to this literature [against market efficiency] because it appears to be the single best example where luck caused an inferior product to defeat a demonstrably superior product. It is an often repeated story that is generally believed to be true. Interestingly, the typewriter story, though charming, is also false.

But then another commenter (saharvetes) linked to this furious letter to the editor that appeared in the next issue of Reason. Randy Cassingham, who wrote the letter, also wrote a book called The Dvorak Keyboard in 1986. Dvorak is a layout invented after QWERTY by Dr. August Dvorak that minimizes finger movement by prioritizing letters that are used more often (like vowels), allowing for greater speed and less chance of carpal tunnel. Cassingham claims that Liebowitz and Margolis reported biased research that “proved” QWERTY’s superior efficiency in order to disprove the myth, mainly relying on the research of a man who hated Dr. Dvorak and destroyed his own data so that his findings couldn’t be verified.

If you feel like going down the rabbit hole of this old feud, check it out. And if you decide that Dvorak *is* the board to beat, here’s a wikiHow that will show you how to switch your keyboard and operating system. According to the Wiki entry, you’ll need a month of training with the new Dvorak layout to get up to your old typing speed and the transition period may be initially painful, because you’ll be using new muscles. And don’t even think about using a QWERTY keyboard during your Dvorak training. You’ll only undo all the progress you’ve made.

My question: Is there anyone who cares enough about a few extra words-per-minute who would be willing to give up the ability to type for a whole month? Learning the Rubik’s cube or baking a kitty litter cake might be time better spent.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 106

View All Comments »
  1. JanneM says:

    Dvorak is counterproductive in quite a few cases. As you note, the layout is optimized for the letter frequencies. But those frequencies change depending on the language, so you need a separate – largely different – layout for every language. A layout optimized for one language would be less optimal for another language than Qwerty.

    And that means that if you use more than one language (I use three regularly), you need to learn one separate layout for each one. And, of course, remember to switch layout every time you change the language you happen to type in at the moment.

    And it means that would Dvorak actually become widespread, you’d come to public internet access points or computers in hotels, airports and wherever, and be faced with a layout that has nothing in common with the one your’re used to, rather than the same basic layout with a few frills altered you have now.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  2. JanneM says:

    Dvorak is counterproductive in quite a few cases. As you note, the layout is optimized for the letter frequencies. But those frequencies change depending on the language, so you need a separate – largely different – layout for every language. A layout optimized for one language would be less optimal for another language than Qwerty.

    And that means that if you use more than one language (I use three regularly), you need to learn one separate layout for each one. And, of course, remember to switch layout every time you change the language you happen to type in at the moment.

    And it means that would Dvorak actually become widespread, you’d come to public internet access points or computers in hotels, airports and wherever, and be faced with a layout that has nothing in common with the one your’re used to, rather than the same basic layout with a few frills altered you have now.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  3. econ2econ says:

    I just don’t see this having widespread adoption unless schools start teaching the Dvorak keyboard instead of the QWERTY (assuming most people first learn proper typing in school). I didn’t find it on first glance of the links, but does it show anywhere the difference in typing speed for someone who once used QWERTY and has now mastered Dvorak?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. econ2econ says:

    I just don’t see this having widespread adoption unless schools start teaching the Dvorak keyboard instead of the QWERTY (assuming most people first learn proper typing in school). I didn’t find it on first glance of the links, but does it show anywhere the difference in typing speed for someone who once used QWERTY and has now mastered Dvorak?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. SAMIam says:

    The reported benefits of Dvorak over QWERTY are not limited to a few words per minute. Dvorak proponents claim their layout reduces repetitive stress disorder type injuries including sore hands and the like. For many that my make the transition worth it.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  6. SAMIam says:

    The reported benefits of Dvorak over QWERTY are not limited to a few words per minute. Dvorak proponents claim their layout reduces repetitive stress disorder type injuries including sore hands and the like. For many that my make the transition worth it.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. I’m proficient with both Qwerty and Dvorak.

    Two main non-obvious advantages of Qwerty are that 1) the rest of the world uses Qwerty so using different computer doesn’t cause any confusion 2) many keyboard shortcuts and typical commands were designed with Qwerty in mind. Typing ‘ls’ or typical emacs keyboard shortcuts can be a pain in Dvorak.

    However, Dvorak is indeed very comfortable and fast for typing large amounts of English text.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  8. I’m proficient with both Qwerty and Dvorak.

    Two main non-obvious advantages of Qwerty are that 1) the rest of the world uses Qwerty so using different computer doesn’t cause any confusion 2) many keyboard shortcuts and typical commands were designed with Qwerty in mind. Typing ‘ls’ or typical emacs keyboard shortcuts can be a pain in Dvorak.

    However, Dvorak is indeed very comfortable and fast for typing large amounts of English text.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0